Mailer Sells the 'Rock Star Dream'

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Women's underwear and music lessons.

The connection isn't immediately clear, but Tom Merrick, chief creative officer at advertising agency MRA, Syracuse, NY, decided the two were the perfect match for an ongoing direct mail campaign.

The client is Johnny Z's Music, Cicero, NY, a small retail outlet that sells musical instruments and offers guitar and bass lessons. It was in October that Merrick told store owner Johnny Zelinsky his idea.

"It's a place where I go to buy my guitars, and he does all my repair work," Merrick said. "He was talking to me about how he wanted to build his lessons business. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was teaching people how to rock. The benefits of that are fame, fortune and chicks. I started to think about all the clichés and the rock star dreams, and one of them is the panties being thrown at you. I sold him on the idea."

The panties are mailed in 10-by-7-inch envelopes and are attached to a 6-by-3 1/2-inch card that tells the recipient: "If you think it's cool getting them mailed to you, wait 'til you get them thrown at you." Copy at the bottom of the card simply states, "Learn to Rock at Johnny Z's." The store's name, address and telephone number are included.

"He said, 'Let's do it,' " Merrick said, "and I had the cards printed up in less than a month, and I delivered his first pile of cards and envelopes in late November."

The number of panties with cards produced was 350, with only a few mailed each month. Recipients include those who have inquired about taking lessons as well as Zelinsky's former students. The cost to mail each piece is about $3. This includes: "the cheapest panties we could find," around $1.50 each; 50 cents for each card; postage of 60 cents; and 25 cents for the envelope.

"It's a prime example of how a small guy can have some impact with direct mail," Merrick said. "He's a small guy, and we were keeping it as cost-effective as possible for him."

"Cost-effective" involves an anticipated expenditure around $1,000 for the effort, which began in December and is expected to continue through the rest of this year.

Merrick's agency fee would have been about $2,000, but it was never billed.

"I did it for trade and services," he said. "He could not afford to come up with that, so I get free lessons and my guitars set up. It's a typical mom-and-pop shop. It was fun, and it enabled the staff to stretch its creative wings a bit."

Those receiving the mailer include teen-agers as well as men in their 20s. A dozen pieces were sent in December, followed by 10 in January and another dozen in February. Zelinsky expects to mail the rest during the course of the year.

The results so far: seven new students who pay $15 per half-hour. Each student typically generates $720 yearly.

"He's got 40 students now," Merrick said, "and many of his longtime students he's had for four years. He said, 'I'm full up on lessons where I wasn't before.' "

Merrick decided the most challenging part of the campaign was buying the panties.

"I got the panties at Wal-Mart," he said. "I went there at 6:55 in the morning for the 7 a.m. opening. And there was another dude looking at panties, and as soon as I walked up, he scrammed. I bought [Zelinsky] the first 20 pairs, and then I told him that he would have to buy the rest himself."

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